USA: Frito-Lay: diet potato chips (COMMENT)
The success of the Atkins diet has prompted manufacturers to release new, low-carb versions of their existing products, with the latest example being Frito-Lay's low-carb potato chips. This attempt to reclaim lost customers is a brave one as it does run the risk of degrading the product's original positioning.
The sustained rise of the Atkins diet has prompted a rash of new product development in the US as manufacturers rush to attract the low-carb dollar. Frito-Lay's introduction of chips with 60% less carbohydrate is the newest example of this trend. In a bid to capture the spend of those Atkins dieters who want to keep on enjoying potato chips, Frito Lay has used soy proteins and fibres to replace the carbohydrate in two new brands, Doritos Edge and Tostitos Edge.
Other companies that have jumped on the Atkins bandwagon include Unilever, which has released low-carb products under existing brand names, including Ragu, Wish-Bone and Liptons. Fast food chains McDonald's and Burger King now have low-carb products on their menus as well.
The beer industry in the US has also been very quick to target Atkins dieters, knowing that many people will find it difficult to give up drinking altogether, even if it will help them lose weight. Consequently, recent months have seen the release of Michelob Ultra and Aspen Edge, while other companies have relaunched their 'lite' beers.
The new consumer interest in health has driven manufacturers to make some fairly drastic changes to their products. This shift is problematic for many sections of the food and drinks industry, notably snacks and alcoholic drinks manufacturers, but also ready meals, confectionery and bakery producers. Manufacturers feel bound to alter their products to suit the tastes of consumers in the wake of this low-carb diet phenomenon.
The risk is that existing consumers may feel alienated - potato chips with reduced potato will be less filling than the originals, and possibly taste sufficiently different to make consumers change brands. A bolder strategy would be to reposition carbohydrate based snack and drinks as indulgent foods. This would avoid the problem of adding a healthy positioning to products that the public has always known were unhealthy and allow the product to trade on its strengths, not bolted on features.
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